The Pebble "smartwatch" is the first product from a small startup company in a technology category that’s really just beginning to materialize. After an hour or so with the watch, you’ll know exactly what I mean by that statement.
But let me save you the trouble and the tinkering. Based a week with the Pebble smartwatch and its nascent app ecosystem, its clear that the device isn’t ready for prime time.
I purchased the black Pebble smartwatch from Best Buy online for $150 for several reasons. I’m excited about the emerging smartwatch category; I was impressed by Pebble’s wildly-successful $10-million Kickstarter campaign; and I’m tired of waiting for Apple to release its much-anticipated smartwatch.
FYI: I used my Pebble with my iPhone 5. The watch also works with Android devices, and it's worth noting that many reviewers say it works much better with Android devices. More on that in a second.
Unfortunately, I was disappointed almost immediately. Rather than detail my many tribulations, here's a list of the three main problems I encountered using Pebble with my iPhone.
1. You need to use two apps and a website to manage Pebble
The official Pebble iOS and Android app is your home base, and it lets you set up your watch, manage third-party watch faces and apps, connect your iPhone (or Android) via Bluetooth to the watch, send SMS and other notifications from Pebble to your phone, and more.
The third thing you need is My Pebble Faces, a website that serves as a catalogue for third-party watch faces, apps and games.
There are lots of third-party watch faces and apps. Some of them are very cool. I particularly like Futura Weather, which displays the day, time and local weather, and Text Watch Date. Still, I'd much rather have one app that acts as my smartwatch dashboard/app manager.
2. Pebble's connection drops multiple times a day
Every day I used my Pebble, its Bluetooth connection to my iPhone disappeared at least once and usually more often. Reconnecting is sometimes as easy as launching the Pebble app. On other occasions, I have to reinstall or update the Pebble app and then reinstall any third-party watchfaces I transferred to the device. As I write this post, I’ve been trying to reconnect the watch and my iPhone for an hour—so far, to no avail. I've spent way too much time managing the connection between my phone and watch, and I never experienced similar issues when using other Bluetooth-enabled devices along with my iPhone. Worth noting: I also had difficulty pairing my Pebble with my Samsung Galaxy Note Android smartphone. According to the Pebble, the two were connected. But the Samsung Galaxy Note continued to list the watch as an 'available device,' but wouldn't pair with it.
3. The Pebble is a serious battery hog
The constant connection (or lack thereof) between iPhone and Pebble takes a big toll on the phone's battery. I'd say Pebble reduces my phone's total battery life by about 30-40 percent.
When Pebble behaves, I love it. For example, when I’m exercising and using the RunKeeper app, Pebble displays RunKeeper data about my current mileage, pace and how long I've been working out. When I’m at the movies and wonder what time it is, I shake my wrist and the Pebble’s backlit display kicks in for a few seconds. The other day, when I was in a loud grocery store, my Pebble buzzed and displayed an urgent text message. I might not have noticed otherwise.
As I stated, the Pebble watch is the first product from a startup that’s just getting started. Tech-savvy users and folks who like to hack may not mind the Pebble's current quirks. But people who simply want a cool, techy watch that does exactly what it's supposed to probably want to avoid Pebble for now.